How to Make DEI Programs More Effective

Nov 30, 2022

By Strategic HR

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs that create a culture of inclusivity are key to attracting top talent, retaining employees, and developing an engaged and highly productive workforce and have had a significant presence in the workplace for some time. In recent years, though, a growing number of businesses are researching and implementing these programs in an attempt to fix a multitude of issues, many of which have become more visible and prevalent in a post-COVID world. But not all programs have been received with equal enthusiasm. In fact, some DEI programs have lacked the necessary support, failing from the start or long before they are able to make positive impacts.

Researchers have found that companies with a more diverse workforce and leadership team are overall more profitable than their peers that lack such diversity.1 Many factors lead to this growth in revenue. Notably, today’s applicants want to work in strong company cultures that value people and how employees contribute to a company’s success. This interest drives top talent to companies with well-developed inclusive cultures and improves retention among current staff. An engaged workforce tends to be more productive—and higher productivity generally means higher profitability.

How have these organizations created such engaging and impactful DEI programs? All successful DEI efforts include a few critical elements.

Sincerity of Purpose

In order to achieve positive outcomes, a DEI program must have genuine buy-in and full support from top leadership down. DEI initiatives and the reasons why they are needed can connect very deeply and personally with people, especially those who have been affected by discrimination or microaggressions. Employees expect leadership to spearhead meaningful change by actively cultivating a culture of inclusivity, not to just bring up the topic as a talking point. This involvement requires a certain level of participation by leadership and can manifest in many different ways, including:

  • Developing, distributing, and living inclusive cultural values
  • Updating policies to be more inclusive (e.g., treating Juneteenth as a company holiday, adding paid parental leave, updating anti-harassment policies)
  • Confronting unconscious bias
  • Holding people accountable for their poor behavior
  • Creating a mentorship program specifically for underserved groups
  • Leading by example in words and action
  • Giving positive recognition when successes are achieved
  • Investment in DEI Initiatives

No corporate program can succeed without business leaders’ and departments’ time, attention, and funding. This means consistent efforts, such as monthly speakers, regular workshops, community partnerships, and more. The most engaging DEI initiatives with long-term positive impacts do cost time and money: time for employees to coordinate and go through planned experiences; money to support training, marketing efforts, and partnerships; and time off to volunteer and make an impact in the local community. Efforts such as these that strengthen the organization’s culture are time and money well spent.

Clear Purpose and Measurable Outcomes

Any strategic-level project requires a well-defined implementation plan that has carefully developed strategic goals, clearly defined and measurable outcomes, and target achievement dates. Once agreement is reached on the goals, groups within the organization can be assigned to work on different objectives. Leadership should be responsible for the overall direction of the DEI roadmap of goals, though everyone in the company can be assigned to specific tasks, with outcomes tied to their performance metrics. (Note that many HRIS platforms include measurement tools for tracking several important DEI metrics.) Leadership should communicate the goals—as well as quarterly progress updates—to all employees within the organization. Good communication and strong commitment (especially from leaders) to diversity can increase engagement levels, which not only assists in achieving organization-wide DEI goals but also helps improve recruitment and retention.

Creating a culture of inclusivity takes time and consistent effort in order to achieve a meaningful, long-term impact. By continuing to educate others and developing a psychologically safe workplace, an organization can feel the positive effects of higher productivity, retention, growth, and engagement.

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